PI Spotlight: Wilfrid Nixon

piWilfrid Nixon, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa, served as principal investigator on an ICT project, Development of Chloride Reduction Training (R27-147), to create a training program for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), other agencies, and private-sector snow and ice removal professionals to learn best practices for winter highway maintenance.

The primary goal of the training is to provide safer roadways for the traveling public—and to do so in an environmentally sustainable way. Of particular importance to sustainability are methods that reduce the use of chloride, which is the most common deicing chemical used in Illinois. Chloride contamination is a serious concern because the chemical has adverse effects on some plants and aquatic biota and may pose a risk to infrastructure and ecosystems.

The training developed by Nixon consists of 11 modules: Introduction, Purpose of Winter Maintenance, Chloride Contamination Issues in Illinois, Levels of Service Goals, How Salt Works, Salt Skills, Drifting Issues, Material Delivery Equipment, Application Rates and Calibration, Plows and Cutting Edges, and Forecasts and Storm Tactics.

Another important goal of the project is to measure the effectiveness of the training. For that purpose, Nixon developed a storm severity index by which road salt use in an area can be compared on a year-to-year basis while taking into account the inevitable variation from one winter to the next.

Nixon says that the training was developed in a way to keep learners focused on the material, which was accomplished by presenting small “chunks” of information separated by video clips illustrating the various concepts. He says that the material is presented in the context of sustainability, in keeping with IDOT’s commitment to enhancing and encouraging “green” and sustainable programs in all facets of the transportation industry.

IDOT has more than 3,500 full- and part-time highway maintenance workers involved in winter operations who benefit from this training. The training program has been shared with other state departments of transportation through the Clear Roads Pooled Fund Study.

Nixon, who joined the faculty at Iowa in 1987, also holds appointments as a faculty research engineer with IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering, a research unit of the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering; and as a researcher with the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, also at the University of Iowa.